This past week I've gotten together with two graduates who are in the thick of "Now what?!" In that same span, I've also talked with two friends who are closer to my age who are saying... "Now what?!"
Ironic, isn't it? Whenever I sit and listen to a female high school student who bemoans the gossipy, mean-girls struggles of female friendships, I let them know, "I'm afraid it doesn't change much as you get older..." The same could be said of transitions.
In my conversations with so many graduating college students (and let me tell you, I've sat and listened to a LOT of them), eventually they say something to the effect of "It's just so hard to have so many unknowns ahead." I will not dismiss their concerns outright, because they are genuine and almost palpable. But after they unload all their fears and insecurities and come up for air, I try to let them know that this will be the first of many challenging transitions in their lives.
Not only have I sat with students struggling with career, identity and community upon graduation, I've sat with girlfriends who are struggling with all of their friends getting married. I've heard from friends when they have babies talk about the isolation and lack of fulfillment they feel at having their lives revolve around one (though very cute) little life, anonymously. I've sympathized with parents who anguish over seeing their children, who previously put their parents at the center of their universe, callously blow them off as they enter adolescence. I've sat with empty nest parents who weep over the silence of their once-busy households. I've nodded my head in compassion as I sit with a friend over lunch who has either been laid off or is realizing that they desperately need to make a career change. And as I have recorded here, I have anguished with friends dealing with terminal health crises that have derailed their plans dramatically.
One of the graduates I sat with last week was amazingly articulate, and with her permission I was able to write down the specific questions and thoughts she is struggling with. When you read them, you'll agree with me that these are fundamental to every transition in life:
- What am I most afraid of?
- I need an idea of what I am even looking for.
- Relationships are really important to me. Which ones do I build my community on?
- How important is it to live near my family? I don't feel like I fit in at home anymore.
- This is gonna be new territory for me... that makes me nervous.
Incredible, isn't it?
She asked me for advice, and I will share the brief thoughts I shared with her, knowing that I have said the same things to each of the other situations I just described:
- Give yourself at least a year. Certainly, identifying your fears and focusing your attention on doing something about your situation is so important (rather than living in the land of "yeah, I should do something about that..."). But my strongest counsel is to pace yourself. This problem isn't going anywhere. Things took a long time to get this way... they will take some time to unfold and take root.
- Give yourself grace. One of my favorite lines with graduates is, "Quit trying to be the next Indiana Jones for Jesus." As believers we are often exposed to (or perhaps went to school with) so many extraordinary speakers and leaders who are doing really impressive things in the name of the Lord: starting non-profit agencies, writing books, speaking to thousands, going to prestigious grad schools... But let's be honest: the majority of us will be ordinary people who simply need to invite the extraordinary God to work through us in the daily stuff of life.
- Give your soul space. To both of the graduates I met with this week, I strongly counseled them to spend regular time to be quiet. To cultivate room in the heads, hearts and schedules to pay attention, both to God and to themselves. I hope that makes sense. It is really easy to cope with the anxiety of transition by tap dancing as fast as you can, keeping busy with a multitude of things that throw a lot of dust in the air but don't always add up to the real issues at hand. We need to spend time in scripture (look up resources in lectio divina), listening prayer, reading about God (not just cheesy Christian books), and some form of reflection where you are able to know how you are doing. I've seen some friends slide into depression, anxiety and compulsions that were recognized when they took the time to admit it.
If any of this applies to you, perhaps these words I read this morning from Proverbs 3 will resonate:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. (Humbling words!)
Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
8 Then you will have healing for your body
and strength for your bones.
I'm so thankful we are not alone. He is faithful.